"This black crappie was my first caught on a fly rod, right under a dock.” —Anne Landfield  Photo: Jeremie Hollman



First published in Volume 15, Issue 1 of The Flyfish Journal

I sent Mandy an equipment list, which included a spinning rod. I wasn’t going to leave Rhode Island without her catching a fish. At Hope Valley Bait & Tackle on our way from the airport, I put some soft baits and offset shank hooks on the counter. 

“How’s the bass situation?” I asked the man unpacking boxes of ammunition behind the counter. He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. 

“Can we catch bass in the pond?” Mandy said.

“The bass spawn when the apples blossom,” he answered. 

Trying to hide my panic, I turned to Mandy, who was squeezing a package of soft plastic lizards. “Have the apples blossomed?” I asked.

She shook her head. My hope hit bottom like a barrel sinker.

Mandy, my old college roommate, had bought a cabin on Locustville Pond near the village of Hope Valley. She’d never held a rod in her life but had heard there were fish in the pond. Back in Seattle, the only information I could find was a Facebook post from a few years back, a guy with a grin holding up a couple of largemouth bass. Nonetheless, when she said, “Come out and teach me how to fish,” I did.

OK, maybe panfish. I added some crappie jigs and Mr. Crappie Rattlin’ bobbers to the pile of bass baits on the counter. 

Next we stopped at the local outfitter. The man behind that counter said, “For crappies, you wanna float a purple bugger under an indicator.” I’d tied up a bunch of black-and-olive buggers at home, but what are you going to do but go with purple? I picked out a handful of 10s and 12s. 

We drove through town, past Ma and Pa’s Country Store. I read the specials off the sandwich board: “Homemade whoopie pies?” 

“They’re so good,” Mandy said. “Want to stop?”

I shifted on the leather seat. “Maybe tomorrow,” I answered, wanting to get out on the pond before sunset.

Ellie Childs plying the waters of New York’s Moose River. Photo: Tim Romano

above Ellie Childs enjoys a lazy late-summer day plying the waters of New York’s Moose River for whatever might bite.
Photo: Tim Romano

Down a dirt road, past the apple trees (hard in bud) that Mandy had planted, the cabin, nestled in pines, was barely a stumble from the pond. A green canoe clunked gently against the dock like a ticking clock. While we unloaded the Jeep I tried to get a look at the water through the trees. Mandy, sensing my urgency, handed me a beer. “You go. I’ll start dinner.”

I rigged the rods for crappies and tried a yellow jig on the spinner. Nothing. But that bobber sure was nice. I tried the purple bugger on the fly rod at various depths. Nothing.  

“Dinner’s ready!” Mandy called. The back of my neck prickled. I made one more cast and strained to see the indicator in the waning light. I leaned the rods against the cabin for the night. 

“Any fish?” she asked, placing fried salmon atop a bed of greens on each plate. Gingham napkins, a beer for each of us. The fire in the woodstove snapped its fingers.

“No,” I said, feeling the lead lodge like a nugget of dread in my chest. 

Saturday, a frigid wind licked the pond’s surface into whitecaps. On the dock, Mandy shivered under two down jackets as we made a few casts. Even with the heavy Rattlin’ bobber, the wind bellied our lines back into the tree branches.  

“I’ll cut those.” Mandy put on a pair of hip boots that came with the cabin and hauled a ladder into the pond. For the next hour we dropped branches and dragged them to a pile on the shore. My shoulders tensed from the cold and from a muted tick-tock—Hook’s watch inside the crocodile. 

Just as my numb fingers pulled the last lure out of a branch, an icy rain started falling. I went full John McEnroe, hurling the branch and swearing at the rain. “Damn you son of a bitch!” 

Mandy pretended to cower. “Maybe time for a break? Take a ride into town? I still want you to try the whoopie pie.”

Embarrassed, I ran my fingers through my wet hair and checked the weather app. “Let’s hang out here a little longer.” 

Weighed down by the oversized hip boots and soggy jackets, Mandy sighed, “OK.”

“It’s supposed to let up in an hour,” I said. 

It didn’t.

The long, narrow, 82-acre Locustville Pond snakes through the town of Hopkinton, RI

above Formed by the damming of Brushy Brook in 1814, the long, narrow, 82-acre Locustville Pond snakes through the town of Hopkinton, RI, with the village of Hope Valley nestled at one end. The fishing is best enjoyed from a canoe in the misty mornings or from the dock at dusk with a beer—or better yet, a Crappie Cocktail—in hand. Photo: Anne Landfield

Sunday, our last day, I was determined to find fish in that pond for her. As the sun warmed the surface, we rowed over glass to where I saw dimpling and handed Mandy the fly rod. “Cast.” Mandy twitched the bugger a few times and then the pink indicator dunked below the surface. “Set!” 

“Lift up?” 

“Yes! Now!” Her rod bent.

“What do I do!?” She was laughing. 

“Strip the line in!” I grabbed the net and scooped a thick, black crappie. “Ha! You have fish in your pond!”

“I want to look at it,” she said. “Can I touch it?”

I held the fish below the water’s surface and showed her how to take the hook out before releasing it. Time just stood there, watching us. 

“You caught a fish!” I high-fived her. 

“I caught a fi-ish,” Mandy sang as she opened a jar of something she’d mixed from the cabin liquor stash. She took a sip and winced. “It’s not very good,” she said, handing me the jar.

I took a sip. “Oh wow,” I half-coughed, half-laughed. “Yeah, pretty crappy.” 

“You mean crappie,” she said, and the Crappie Cocktail was born. 

We fished the rest of the day from the canoe, the pond rife with crappies and perch. In the afternoon, bluegills obliterated a size-12 caddis—dragon souls born into a tiny, pucker mouth. We drank, talked and fished until the black water met the night.

At the airport the next morning, I grabbed my bags from the back of the Jeep, feeling victorious. But then I felt the tug of that little lead weight. “Damn, I’m sorry we never got that whoopie pie.”

“Next year,” Mandy said and smiled. “When the apples blossom.”

“Just after,” I said, and slung the strap of the rod case over my shoulder. “Next year is bass.”   



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